All of the Lights: Traffic in 8 Cities

“They say the universe is expanding. That should help with the traffic.” – Steven Wright

DAT traffic though

New York City traffic during rush hour on a typical commuting day

Traffic is a universal problem. 

Some have touted the arrival of autonomous vehicles as the solution to traffic, just as many refute.  It’s clear that, whichever side you take, traffic is as pervasive and frequent a subject of conversation and speculation as, say, the weather, or “last night’s game”.

Waze users (“Wazers”) contribute significant amounts of data to the app, both to help our algorithms and other drivers. Because the frequency of Wazers naturally increases during commuting hours, we see increases in reports of traffic, accidents, road hazards, construction, road closures and more. On the heels of our recent W10 / Connected Citizens Program launch, we wanted to take all of this data for a single day in some of these cities to visualize a day of Waze data.

In the video below you’ll see snapshots from a day of data in 8 different cities. To put this together, Waze worked with worked with Google’s Data Arts Team, led by Aaron Koblin.

It’s combination of (anonymous) GPS data and all of the reporting contributed by Wazers. Data has been sorted and color-coded according to alert type: traffic police hazard accident other. Unsurprisingly, traffic is by far the most common and prevalent – especially during rush hour times. 

The green lines indicates the speed at which drivers are moving throughout the day. As traffic builds up, their paths become gradually more red. This isn’t too surprising, since 63% of drivers take the same route every day, regardless of traffic. Along the bottom of the video you’ll see a real-time graph of how many reports are generated. Once you watch all 8 videos, you might notice that US cities like Los Angeles, NYC and Boston have predominant peaks during morning and evening hours, while developing cities like Jakarta have sustained periods of activity until quite late at night.

You may also notice that, while traffic tends to build up near economic and business centers of American cities, it’s completely spread out through Jakarta and Rio. We’ve observed, through our data, that developing infrastructures do not experience the midday lulls in traffic, and any kind of irregular or major traffic event can cause enduring congestion sometimes until as late at 10PM local time. Also, since many developing infrastructures don’t have centralized transportation pipelines, congestion becomes persistent and widespread.

It may seem like driving +45 minutes to go 20 miles is unbearable, but, hey, at least you weren’t bartering for eggs, water and cigarettes for 10 days

I’m as fascinated as I am frustrated with traffic. Why does it happen? Why, after crawling along at mind-numbing speeds (on something someone so infuriatingly named a “freeway”) does the congestion all of a sudden disappear? No accident, no construction- no satisfying answer for the gross inconvenience of having to spend a little more time in your climate-controlled steel cage with your $4.00 coffee.

Traffic is not an enigma- it’s a persistent problem based on factors like number of vehicles, location of highly populous business centers versus highly residential areas- all compounded by the number of available and efficient routes by which to navigate between the two. It tends to be a symptom of outdated infrastructure and outpaced urban planning.

This data visualization, more than anything else, shows that you’re not alone. You and millions of other drivers out on the road every morning and evening – a beautiful, living fusion of data and the everyday; the blood of highly active arteries, coursing through cities- an urban cardiovascular journey of that will, likely, never cease.

Check out the video, and make sure to click through to the individual cities.